Chinese medicine has been improving fertility naturally for thousands of years, and today is used to support Western fertility treatments such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and intra-uterine insemination (IUI).
Acupuncture and IVF – the research
Over the past ten years, many studies have been conducted into the use of acupuncture to support IVF treatment, and the quality of research is continually improving. While early systematic reviews of research found that evidence in this area was ‘unclear’, much of it was positive, including a study from Manheimer et al (2008) in the British Medical Journal which stated that “adding acupuncture to IVF improved pregnancy rates more than any other recent improvement or advance in IVF technology” (1). More recently a systematic review and meta-analysis by Qian et al (2016), concluded that “Acupuncture improved the CPR (clinical pregnancy rate) in women undergoing IVF” (2). This review was published in the Archives of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, and covered 30 trials with a total of 6344 participants!
Clinical experience and research suggest that acupuncture may help in the following ways:
- Increase uterine and ovarian blood flow and microcirculation (3), (4)
- Improve development of ovarian follicles and endometrial lining (2), (5)
- Regulate hormones and improve response to hormonal stimulation (6)
- Lessen the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation in women with PCOS (7)
- Relax the body to decrease stress and anxiety (8)
Timing of acupuncture treatments
Initial studies showed that success rates of IVF almost doubled when acupuncture was incorporated on the day of embryo transfer (9). More recently, trials at the Homerton hospital in London have found that acupuncture in the weeks before egg collection and transfer has a beneficial effect on stress hormone levels, as well as a higher pregnancy and live birth rate (10).
To get the best possible outcome, we recommend having regular acupuncture in the weeks before you start your IVF cycle to prepare your body, during the stimulation phase, before and after embryo transfer, and again a few days after embryo transfer. This usually means fortnightly acupuncture sessions during the preparation phase, and weekly once the IVF process begins. Of course, everyone’s timeframe is different, and we will follow a schedule that works for you.
For the past fifteen years, Dr Mary-Jo Bevin (TCM) has been assisting couples through their IVF journey. Her treatments involve acupuncture, herbal medicines (where appropriate), and diet and lifestyle advice, in order to optimise your fertility. Mary-Jo believes in integrative medicine, incorporating the latest scientific research with a traditional, holistic approach, and is confident in working alongside gynaecologists, obstetricians and fertility specialists.
Research and links
(1) Manheimer E et al., Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis. British Medical Journal, Mar 2008, pp 545-549.
(2) Qian Y et al., Therapeutic effect of acupuncture on the outcomes of in vitro fertilization: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Archives of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, Dec 2016, pp 1-16.
(3) Sterner-Victorin E et al., Reduction of blood flow impedance in the uterine arteries of infertile women with electro-acupuncture. Human Reproduction, Jun 1996, pp 1314-7.
(4) Sterner-Victorin E et al., Ovarian blood flow responses to electro-acupuncture stimulation at different frequencies and intensities in anaesthetized rats. Autonomic Neuroscience, Oct 2003, pp 50-6.
(5) Yu W et al., A pilot study evaluating the combination of acupuncture with sildenafil on endometrial thickness. Fertility and Sterility, Apr 2007, p s23.
(6) Magarelli P et al., Changes in serum cortisol and prolactin associated with acupuncture during controlled ovarian hyperstimulation in women undergoing in vitro fertilization- embryo transfer treatment. Fertility and Sterility, Dec 2009, pp 1870-9.
(7) Jo J, Lee YJ, Effectiveness of acupuncture in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome undergoing in vitro fertilisation or intracytoplasmic sperm injection: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
(8) Qu F et al., Auricular acupressure reduces anxiety levels and improves outcomes of in vitro fertilization: a prospective, randomized and controlled study. Scientific Reports, May 2014, 5028.